Duluth developer launches bid to save Pastoret and revive destroyed downtown block

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DULUTH – A notoriously dilapidated building in downtown Duluth – once stately turn-of-the-century townhouses – could see new life thanks to a proposal from a local developer and restorer.

The Pastoret Terrace, whose fate has been tied to several court cases in recent years, would become short-term vacation rentals if Duluthian Rod Raymond succeeds in financing the estimated $13 million project.

The Pastoret and the adjoining Paul Robeson Ballroom at the corner of 1st Street and 2nd Avenue E. most recently housed the Kozy Bar and apartments. Multiple fires have destroyed much of the property, designed by famed architect Oliver Traphagen and considered part of Duluth’s Commercial Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There is a responsibility for some of these works of art,” Raymond said. “Whether I do it or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that we save this building.”

The Pastoret has been owned by the Duluth Economic Development Authority since 2016. That’s when the city agency acquired the property after previous owner Eric Ringsred confiscated it for non-payment of taxes. In 2018, Ringsred and Respect Starts Here, a Duluth preservation group, filed a lawsuit to halt the city’s demolition plans for the 1887 Romanesque Revival building.

The city argued the buildings were safety concerns, while Ringsred said officials had not considered alternatives to demolition. A St. Louis County judge sided with the city, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed his decision in 2020, ordering the city to make repairs to prevent further deterioration.

A fire later that year prompted the city to ask the judge to allow partial destruction of the building. The judge instead ordered the stabilization of the property and a trial that would have determined whether the building would collapse was set for early July. The city and Respect Starts Here have agreed to a six-month break while Raymond explores the development, said Miles Ringsred, the attorney representing the preservation group and his father, Eric.

“They’re very hopeful that Rod’s project can move forward,” said Miles Ringsred. “A property with so much significance, so much beauty, can really be the catalyst for development in this neighborhood. … But time is not on the side of the building.”

Raymond, whose restoration projects include the former City Hall on Superior Street, completed using historic state tax credits, hopes to build 21 rental units with kitchenettes while retaining the historic brick exterior . He’s still considering plans for the ballroom space, but said a black history museum to complement the Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial across the street is an idea. A masonry expert says the exterior can be saved and estimates the job at less than $1 million, Raymond said. But the sunset of the state’s historic structure tax credit program this summer means it will apply for government grants and other tax relief.

If his project comes to fruition, Raymond believes it would revive the run-down First Street neighborhood, just as Lincoln Park has been filled with restaurants, tony shops and craft beers.

“It could be a really good business model,” said Raymond, owner of the Oliver Inn, Endion Inn and Fitger’s Brewhouse, among others.

Le Pastoret was originally built as six luxury townhouses. The bar was built in 1960 and 50 apartments had been built by the time a major fire occurred in 2010. In recent years several proposals for the property, including one from Raymond, have been rejected by the city. City documents indicate that the roof of part of the Pastoret building is collapsed and open to the elements, and part of the structure is unstable.

City spokesman Phil Jents said the city had no comment on the plans due to ongoing litigation and a pending request for proposals.

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